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May 17, 2005

Vocal sprite shares joy of his art

Seattle Times (WA):

Bobby McFerrin didn't bring a band along to his one-night stand at the Moore Theatre. He didn't have to: The entire audience supplied ancillary vocals for this inimitable Pied Piper of Pipes, as did a local teen chorus invited to share the stage with him. Though few in the packed Moore crowd could even dream of matching the great musical versatility, range and powers of mimicry McFerrin wields, this unique entertainer always makes sure his audiences share in the sheer joy and spirit of improvisation that stokes his singing.

Off the symphony hall circuit (which he toured often in the 1990s as a serious student and practitioner of orchestral conducting), the grinning McFerrin loped onto the Moore stage garbed in jeans and a floppy T-shirt, tied his long braids into a topknot, and launched right into song. Some tunes he performed during his single, elongated set were recognizable standards ("Blackbird," "Over the Rainbow") long in McFerrin's repertoire, but always reshaped by the moment. Other numbers riffed on original blues, jazz or Brazilian themes, or African-sounding vocal excursions.

With customary fluidity, McFerrin sang full, inventive arrangements. It was sometimes hard to believe it all came out of a single mouth. He seamlessly wedded melody to bass and percussion settings, his voice diving and soaring from basso to mezzo with stops in-between. Many tunes became ensemble efforts, however. The youth choral group on hand took his cues to supply repeated, underlying phrases he would embellish with improvised melodic lines. At one juncture, he singled out a gifted young woman to duet with him on a vibrant impromptu rendition of the Jill Scott tune "Golden" that rocked the joint.

But McFerrin also wanted everyone to join in with him, and he's a hard guy to refuse. For one big-band-style tune, he instantly turned the audience into a swinging, two-part horn section. Later he worked the crowd with wireless microphone, picking out patrons (ranging in age from about 7 to 70) to commune with him in vocalese.

Last time McFerrin played Seattle, he performed his first concert ever with the sublime tap dancer Savion Glover. On this visit, he took the riskier step of inviting up on stage any patron who felt moved to concoct a modern dance performance to his vocals. Four brave souls obliged, bless them, despite the prospect of abject humiliation. And the result was a charming suite of kinetic duos, guided by a beloved musical shaman one so acutely sensitive to the creative potential of all people, that he nurtures it at every opportunity.

Posted by acapnews at May 17, 2005 12:15 AM